The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About


Following a similar line of thought to that expressed in the article in The Etude for February, 1902, it has led me to the consideration of another phase of voice cultivation in which there is a wide divergence of opinion among writers. The subject of registers has probably been the cause of more real anxiety to teachers and singers than any other one topic connected with the cultivation of the singing voice. Nay, it has been the bone of contention among singing teachers ever since the art of singing has been taught, and the rock upon which many a good intention has been wrecked.

The testimony I shall present will scarcely help a doubting mind except as to one’s preference for au­thorities quoted, and yet the wise teacher may find an anchor in it for his belief or an indorsement for his method.

Garcia, in Observations Physiologiques sur la voix humaine,” 1861, divided the voice into three registers: Chest, Falsetto, and Head, according to Holbrook Curtis, and these were common to both sexes. He also divided the chest and head into upper and lower, making, in all, five distinct mechanisms.

But in 1894 Garcia acknowledged three distinct reg­isters: Chest, Medium, and Head. These terms he said were incorrect, but accepted. Garcia’s theory is this: “In the mezzosoprano the chest-register begins on G or A (below the staff); in soprano voices about B-flat (below the staff); the medium register ranges from C up to D-flat (4th line), and the head begins on one of the notes from C-sharp to E-natural.” The contralto voice changes to the medium and head at the same points as the soprano.

In the male voice the same registers exist as in the female, but the chest is the chief one, “the other two being but a remnant of the boy’s voice,” and “the tenor has a greater facility in using the falsetto- and head- registers.”

Madame Seiler has been one of the most careful investigators into the mechanism of the voice that we have any record of, and her experiments with the laryngoscope mark her an authority who ranks with the best. Not satisfied with the investigations of Garcia, she pursued the subject under advice of Pro­fessor Helmholz at Heidelberg, and, although she has quoted freely from Garcia and adopted his theories of the registers, she admits that his observations do not lead to a satisfactory conclusion as to the functions of the vocal organ.

Madame Seiler’s investigations disclosed to her that the tones of the normal voice are produced by the edges of the glottis, and that the upper chords (false) produce the falsetto voice (the medium), and settled in her mind these facts, viz.: that the Chest-voice ends at F, F-sharp, where the Falsetto begins, ending, in its turn, at C, C-sharp, in the female, and E-fiat, E in the male voice; that the Head-register begins at F-sharp, and, owing to the fact that the cuneiform cartilages were rarely formed in the male larynx, that only a few male voices can produce the head-tones. The bass voice used the chest only in two series (first and second), while the tenor uses the same as the bass and and two tones of the first series of falsetto in addition.

The difference between the tenor and bass voices, she claims, lies in the greater or less ease with which the tones of the higher or lower registers are sung, and in the greater volume and beauty always con­nected therewith; that is: in the timbre of the voice, not, as is commonly thought, in the difference of the transitions of the registers.

Madame Seiler deprecates the tendency on the part of teachers to raise (force) the lower register as far as possible toward the higher, and remarks that many years ago tenors were expected to sing high A, with free chest-tone,” but that, owing to the lower musical pitch, it was only equal to singing F-sharp at the present day; moreover, she says that it is the fault of the higher pitch and consequent extension of the limits of the registers that is the chief reason why voices fail so quickly now.

Nava, in “Elements of Vocalization,” deals only with the female voice, and describes the limits of Chest-, Falsetto-, and Head- registers as follows: In contraltos chest-register is used up to B (3d line), and head from C upward. In sopranos the sounds C, D, E are sung in chest-register, and from F up to C in the middle, while from C up is sung in the head-register.

Nava advises that, inasmuch as the highest so­pranos very often have no chest-register, which is caused by the narrowness of the glottis, it is better not to force the larynx to obtain it; but to gain them (the chest-notes) apply the same means which render possible the emission of the middle notes; that is: the so-called falsetto, or closed, sounds. However, though the sounds thus obtained may be extremely obscure, they can be rendered full and expressive with practice.

Brown and Behnke, in “Voice, Song, and Speech,” describe five registers, viz.: Lower Thick, Upper Thick, Lower Thin, Upper Thin, and Small, which are found in the vast majority of voices. They also acknowledge, “broadly speaking, three registers, namely: Thick, Thin, and Small.” This means, of course, that they divide the thick and thin into two parts, thus giving practically five registers.

They advise that the change from one register to

another should always be made a couple of tones below the extreme limit; so that there will be, at the juncture of every two registers, a few optional tones which it is possible to take with both mechan­isms. They deplore the mistake which some teachers make in developing and exaggerating registers instead of smoothing them over and equalizing them, and warn all singers against the danger of carrying the mechanism of a register beyond its proper limit.

Kofler characterizes the three-register system as voice-ruining, and declares it to be in direct contra­diction to the principles of the old Italian masters. He writes: “The fundamental theory of the old school was: all the tones of a voice must be even,” and “the modern Italian school aims at the greatest possible unevenness by establishing a distinct line for three vocal registers.” Kofler claims that Garcia and Madame Seiler have done harm to the art of singing by promulgating a wrong theory of three registers; that the laryngeal muscle-action which they observed was in production of a wrong, instead of a right, tone; and further declares that the cultivation of the male soprano and alto voices in the early part of the eighteenth century corrupted the pure system of the first masters, and gave use to the so-called three-register system in the female voice.

In his own teaching Mr. Kofler uses a system essen­tially that described by Emil Behnke, of which he says: “He (Behnke) draws distinct lines on four dif­ferent points on a diagram; drops them, however, in producing the voice.” Further, Mr. Kofler believes that Behnke draws the lines only to explain the really existing, different muscle-actions of the larynx, and to show their gradual transition from one register to the other, which causes the tones to follow each other in one unbroken chain of smooth sounds with­out any break and unevenness. This he claims is the identical tone-production of the old Italian masters.

Of the registers of the male voice he speaks of the Chest and the Falsetto, and of the necessity for de­veloping the latter, combining and blending it with the chest. “In short, producing and cultivating the high notes through and by means of the falsetto.” He does not believe in developing the voice from the low notes up, but from the center up and down. He says there are two natural registers, that there is no line where one is dropped and the other begins, and that the changes are effected by a gradual transition from one into the other.

Shakespeare refers to the registers’ having been given their names from the ideas held that the chest­voice was caused by the chest, and the highest notes proceeded from the head. He recognizes Chest, Me­dium or mixed, and Head. Regarding the chest, he says: “This register and likewise the medium voice can be forced up, but never beyond a certain point without requiring a breath-pressure that places the voice beyond control of the singer.” On reaching the point of change from one register to another he says that “with rightly controlled breath and open throat we compel the mechanism of the larynx to change; the vocal chords adjust themselves somewhat differently, and another register is said to have been brought into action.”

In women’s voices E-flat or E (first line) is the first note of any force in the medium. He claims that the head-voice can be used by women as low as A (sec­ond space), but it will be feeble, being effective in soft passages at E (fourth space). He advises every soprano or mezzosoprano to study daily head-tones down to A (second space) or B-flat (third line), and he also advises male singers to practice daily the low tones of the head-register. This, he says, will not only compel a right breath-control, but will prevent or cure any inclination or habit of singing the upper or medium tones in a rigid, throaty, or frontal man­ner. He also recommends carrying down the registers rather than up.—Albert J. Wilkins.

(To be Concluded.)

A man can do easily, under the stress of an over­powering conviction, what before would have seemed like a miracle to him.—Success.

<< The Influence of Frescobaldi.     Natural Vocalism. >>

Monthly Archives


You are reading Registers. from the May, 1902 issue of The Etude Magazine.

The Influence of Frescobaldi. is the previous story in The Etude

Natural Vocalism. is the next entry in The Etude.

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music